2021-12-05 Advent 2
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Prepare! A number of years ago there were these commercials on TV put out by the Government of Canada about being prepared. In fact, you could get your very own “Canada Preparedness Guide” which tells you all kinds of good information about being prepared. They get you to look at your region and be aware of potential disasters and emergencies like blackouts, blizzards, landslides, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorists, wildfires, etc. And, they ask Canadians everywhere to either buy or make their own preparedness kit with all the essentials like water, food, can openers, flashlights and candles, first-aid kit, any medications you might need, pet food, the list goes on and on. The bottom line is to be prepared before something big happens. Just think of the terrible flooding that has befallen British Columbia. No roads. No supply chains. The bread truck doesn’t come. All the grocery store shelves are empty. If you aren’t prepared before something like that, it will be too late to deal with it after the fact.
And, it just so happens that our Gospel lesson from Luke has a whole lot to do with being prepared. Advent always brings with it the classic iconic figure of John the Baptist. Luke introduces this section purposely with loads of specific, historic detailed references. He does this so that his readers don’t just think the Bible some kind of fairy tale or “nice words” that were “once upon a time, in a land far, far away.” St. Luke gives specific actual time and specific actual places! These were real people in real places in real situations. Luke stresses the reality of the whole experience - and perhaps that is the reason why he doesn’t include the “surreal” physical description of John the Baptist. To Luke, he is the voice crying in the wilderness!
However, both Matthew and Mark tell us exactly how crazy John looked. He was for all intents and purposes kind of a “weirdo.” He lived out in the desert, wearing camel hide with a lovely leather belt accessory and ate big nasty locusts and wild honey. He must have looked just like some kind of fairy tale character - like somebody straight out of an episode of Survivor! Yet, even though he was a strange lookin’ cat in the desert, he was a prophet of God and people came out in droves to hear him preach. His message? “Prepare the way of the Lord!” “Get ready for the coming One!” “Repent and be baptized!”
When we think about getting ready for Christmas, we naturally think of the presents, the shopping, getting the perfect Christmas tree, getting the 400 million LED Christmas lights up on the front of the house, getting the baking done and the cooking under way, writing the Christmas letter, and any other number of things on the enormous list. But John, on the other hand, he’s all “Repentance!” “Baptism!” “Forgiveness of sins in the coming One!” Take a few minutes to compare that with the average message that Churches put out at Christmas time these days. You will hear things like “Come to our Church!” “We are the friendliest one in town!” “We have the best coffee” “We have the best music at our worship services!” “Come and join us to experience all the love, sharing, caring and singing you could ever want at this festive time of year!” You get none of this sappy saturated consumerized-spirituality from John!
John was the voice. The message is more important than the messenger. And John’s message crying in the wilderness paved the way for the Advent theme of Peace. If you were to contrast war and peace you would notice a great deal of things I’m sure. But if you examined how wars start, you might come up with issues like money, or greed or tyranny. Yet ultimately, it is that people are sinful. People are always sinful. People have an inborn sense of the love of self above all else which leads to massive arrogance and pride. It leads to a people who are not willing to forgive or a people who want to force their views onto others. This is what causes wars, conflict and enmity. And this is the exact opposite of peace! If we are honest with ourselves, our own sinful contributions of pride prevent us from saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”
This is why we all need to hear John’s message of Repentance - because all of us have sinned in this manner and repentance is the only way to peace. Peace with God and peace with each other. Repentance prepares the way of the Lord. It prepares our hearts for Christ and His peace which surpasses all understanding.
We tend to get confused about Repentance though, what it means, what it doesn’t mean and how it brings peace. But here is a simple way to remember it though. Repentance is actually made up of “3 Rs.” The first “R” is Recognize. Recognize your own sin before God. This means to apologize or the more Christian thing, to confess. We confess our sins to God our Father in prayer and to each other. This is important because it is the great leveller of all people. Romans 3:23 tells us “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” None is greater or less than another in this regard. No one is better or worse than another. We are all equal in our falleness. So we repent of our sins to rid ourselves of the spiritual rot and suffering.
The second “R” is Receive. This means we receive God’s forgiveness! We know 100% without a doubt that God has forgiven the sins of the world - your sins - by Christ’s death on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the grave. All of your pain, sin and shame are gone in the blood of Christ shed on the cross. God remembers your sins no more. You have a free conscience in Christ’s mercy and redemption. The personal concrete image that God gives of our forgiveness is Holy Baptism. In the washing and rebirth of the Holy Spirit, you put on Christ - just like a little toddler all bundled up in a full body snowsuit, wandering around like a fat little starfish. You are totally clothed in Christ’s forgiveness, freely by God’s unearned grace. We receive Christ’s forgiveness and Christ himself as He comes to us in His very body and blood in the heavenly mystery of Holy Communion, another amazing gift of God’s amazing grace.
The third “R” of Repentance is Remember. This means we remember that God’s forgiveness is actually for you in Christ and that it changes your life. When you are tempted to remember your sins or the sins of others you have forgiven, remember that God remembers your sin no more. They are totally forgiven and forgotten in Christ. Christ’s forgiveness of our impatience and stress makes us patient and calm. Christ’s forgiveness of our self-centered, prideful, arrogant, hard-headed unwillingness to forgive others - transforms us into Christ centered, humble and forgiving Christians.
Repentance! The voice crying in the wilderness! It sure blows the doors off the festive season of advertising, stress and empty clichés. Rather, we have Peace with God in our Baptism and Peace with each other because of His forgiveness. We remember the self-less words of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). So the Advent question asks “Are you prepared?!”" Prepare the way of the Lord! For all flesh shall see the salvation of God! Amen. Come Lord Jesus!